Artisan Business Roasteria Goodbye
In the artist’s rendition above we see Tricia Rhodes and Mary Michaud bringing their classy style to the front bar. For us Mary and Tricia defined the warm, smooth service style of the Roasteria in their eight years of artistry. In the upper left corner you see artist Kurt Wenner installing his mural “An Italian in Algiers” after the opera of the same name by Rossini. To the left are the windows overlooking the park…(it was especially beautiful when it snowed). In the center we see the the “elements” series of espresso education and innovations that occured there. And in the center of the bar our Diedrich IR-12 roaster appears ina bit of digital wizardry. (The producation roasting was actually moved years ago to 1512 11th Ave. across thge park from the shop.) And on the right I appear at my sample roaster selecting coffees to use in the blends. The Roasteria was where I did all my sample roasting and blending research until the day it closed.
Although I had years of advance warning that Sound Transit was going to build the Capitol Hill station there, it did not seem real that it was going to be razed. But finally, on Sunday July 13th 2008 it was finally time to say goodbye to our beloved Roasteria Vivace.
This leafy corner came to my attention in 1991 the year Geneva and I had our first son, Taylor. Although it was tucked away a bit, Iwas swayed by my desire to gaze out on the trees in the park for the rest of my life, making the beautiful coffee, and we opened on September 15th 1992. Locating in a leafy hideout was ana act of youthful hubris on my part and business was slow for the first few years.
With no advertising, it became popular because of you dear coffee lover. You not only sought us out but told your friends and families. Thank you very much.
The Roasteria was the place where caffe espresso was perfected (again with the hubris) ass a culinary art. Our delicious, swirly research was documented there in a book and two videos that have gone world wide as the standard course for preparing and pouring espresso coffee. In filming Caffe Latte Art in 1994 the store appears as half the original size with the Probat L-12 up front where we did all our roasting until 1995.
When I filmed “Techniques of the Barista” there in 1996 you see the full size shop with the Wenner mural over my shoulder. And, I was younger, I had brown hair.
They say that what ever does not kill you makes you stronger, and clouds have silver linings. In our case this has been true. Our new shop is on North Broadway at the Brix condominiums (532 Broadway Ave E.). We opened on September 26th 2008, a Friday. We had no signs, and of course no advertising. The first day broke even and the second day was standing room only. Our daily business volume exceeded the Roasteria within three weeks after opening and…we own it! We have no lease. The mural is there, we have our children’s corner, and finally I have my perfect yellow walls that I always secretely yearned for.
Artisan Business-customer service theory
Customer service does not occur in a vacuum. It is a dynamic. living thing where the customer, over time, is as important as the employee in enhancing, or destroying, fine attentive service.
Let me give an example. In 1989 Vivace opened a cart in the financial district of downtown Seattle at 5th and Union. I had counted pedestrian foot traffic at over 10,000 people/day walking past the corner and thought I can’t lose here it’s a “no-brainer”.
It was a very left brain analysis and completely devoid of any intuiition. If I had just stood on the corner with my eyes closed, smelling the diesel and hearing the roaring buses climbing past the courtyard, I would have run screaming from this “opportunity”. It was, and is, a dirty stressed out place in the city. No one with any artistry in their soul could work there….but I was all ego and ambition and thought of it a the shining center of Seattle.
Three years later we pulled the plug and built the Roasteria on Capitol Hill. In those three years I gained valuable experience in customer service. (Remember, experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you thought you wanted).
The lessons I learned are what this short essay is about. I worked morning shift before Taylor was born in 1991 and the first thing I noticed was a lack of loyalty. One day they buy my beautiful latte made with sweet espresso and topped with the heart shape from perfectly steamed milk , and the next day the same person would dash by with Charbucks or an SBC cup, and man that personally pissed me off.
Pretty soon no one on my staff wanted to work there. They would do it for Vivace but were clearly unhappy after the first year. We had problems with employee theft, showing up on time, abusing equipment, and running a sloppy cart. It just kept getting harder and harder and culminated with me hiring a opportunistic manager that tried to sue Vivace for a hostile work environment. (We won but not before gaining more “experience”). I thought I was in the wrong business for awhile.
Really, I just had a beautiful business concept in trhe wrong place. The district was largely inhabited by people that felt trapped in dead end jobs shuffling paper for the banks or working the teller lines. They were largely numb to the finer pleasures of life and took no joy in our lovely coffee.
As I have illuminated in my “Culture of Excellence” articles (see www.espressovivace.com/archives ) coffee at the top level can only be made by artistic people motived by the beauty that we find in the perfect extraction or latte art pattern. It is a culinary art first, but like the moves of a master sushi chef it is also performance art. These artists require audience appreciation to remain happy at work.
So my theory is that if you do not have appreciative customers you cannot run the bar, the whole thing just crumbles in your hands. The unhappy people at 5th and Union were vampires draining the joy out of myself and my staff. Location is not a numbers game in the city, it is all about finding happy people that are available for culinary experience.
Espresso Equipment-bottomless porta-filter
I think it was in 1991 that John Blackwelll showed me a bottomless porta-filter to play with. (John is a LaMarzocco engineer and has been a key figure in my ability to advance espresso coffee. I will never forget coming in in ’94 all excited because I had figured out how to measure the brewing temperature on the coffee bed. I whipped it out my rig as he dove under his desk and I could hear rummaging…then he appeared with the exact thing, a Fluke KJ digital thermometer with the bead probe threaded up through a hole in the coffee basket. And…this is hardly an isolated occurence in our history…)
Anyway I played with the bottomless PF, marveling at the beauty of the coffee coalescing beneath the basket in perfect chaos until it formed into an undulating stream of crema.
I found it very useful for evaluating grinders and distribution techniques because any problem instantly showed up as excessive white streaking in under the basket.
At left is espresso made on a dull conical burr grinder. Note excessive streaking under the basket.
In 1994 I rejected this for bar use because baristi had trouble timing the pour compared to the old double spout. At the time I was dedicated to staff reading the coffee without the use of timers. However, with the advent of super machines, like the Synesso and LaMarzocco GB-5, flow rate became so critical that we went back to timers. (With temperature stabilized espresso machines extraction time is about 23-25 seconds for the double shot with no margin for error. Old machines were more forgiving and a 30 second pour was often as good as a 25 second pour.) Using timers again for shot duration and volume meant that we could adopt the bottomless PF for all machines at Vivace. It became clear in the last few years that bottomless PF’s produce better espresso coffee.
First there is the brass that the Italian PF is made from. Brass is a soft, porous metal that contains lead. Being porous it traps coffee in it’s surface where it becomes rancid and contributes th dirty-machine taste to espresso flowing over it. This taste is akin to chewing on dirty athletic socks and will not benefit your espresso. (At least I sincerely hope not.)
The bottomless PF eliminated an entire surface from being able to contaminate our coffee and produced a clean flavor profile inching ever closer to a quote of the fragrance.
(It is worth noting that LaMarzocco and Synesso both replaced the brass diffusion blocks with stainless steel. In general moving from brass to stainless anywhere in the brewing surface network makes your espresso have a cleaner, sweeter taste. Diffusion blocks are the masses of metal that your dispersion screens screw into.)
Another benefit we noticed is the very light weight making the barista job easier and more fun.
Drawbacks to the bottomless PF include not being very stable to pack coffee into compared to the old double spout. We hang the handle over the edge of the counter to obtain a flat, stable packing surface. Also, you are not able to serve a single or triple-shot as easily. (Remember, an espresso shot is stratified within the cup. No matter how hard you swirl the cup, the sugars hang around the bottom of the shot. So, you cannot just pour out half the shot and have a true single espresso coffee.)
Personally, I will not brew espresso on any PF except bottomless.
Equipment Review Compak K-10 WBC grinder
The espresso machine has been largely perfected with the advent of the Synesso Cyncra and the LaMarzocco GB-5. (Among many excellent new designs.) The fragrance of a Northern Italian roast can now be enjoyed as a flavor/aroma experience with great fidelity-at least for a few shots. What is now missing is a grinder capable of a fine cut in high volume conditions.
So, I was justifiably excited to see Compak, a Spanish company, making conical burr machines with a head speed of 300 rpm. For my test I chose the WBC (World Barista Contest) model.
The grinder turns a 68mm full conical burr at 300 rpm and grinds 17 grams in about 6 seconds. A bit fast by my standards but the first few shots offered full flavor and a thick, velvet mouthfeel which is the signature of conical burrs compared to flat burrs. (The reason for this is the production of micro-particles in the powder produced by conical burrs.)
As my test continued however, the grind was a moving target, each shot reequired a finer grind than the last shot to remain within the required extraction time of about 25 seconds for a little under 2 oz. of crema.
Back on the bench the reasons became clear.
Here is the smoking gun. Vertical alignment over the motor facilitates heat transfer through the aluminum gear assembly into the grinding head.
Direct heat transfer to the grinding head combined with 10 grams of chambered coffee baking in the dosing chute renders the Compak K-10 WBC useless for gourmet espresso purveyors that grind by the cup.
Welcome and thank you for taking a look at my blog.
My reasons for starting this are to be able to share espresso techniques and equipment reviews with you, unedited. As always I remain true to the coffee and will share with you well tested techniques, glowing accounts of superior machines and grinders if they earn it, and scathing reviews of sub-standard equipment with unflinching honesty.
After twenty- one years in business I have also been amazed by the tenacity and stability of Vivace as a gourmet espresso company. It seems like the longer that you remain true to the coffee the more that you capture the imaginations and hearts of your customers. I found out last year, when my flagship store was seized under eminent domain, that this is worth more than traditional capitol when it comes to surviving as a business. Under the “Artisan Business” banner I will examine the pure pursuit of quality coffee as it relates to sustainability, personal satisfaction, and as a competitive strategy.
In the mix I may add barista profiles and an occasional thought on urban cycling theory and practice.